A festival centred on books and music? That’s one combination which could only be thought of in the Dutch city of Den Haag. Once a year, the fanciest area of this peace and justice city is transformed into a 4-day music & literature extravaganza, Crossing Border. Although the main focus is the music (which takes place on the 2nd and 3rd days of the festival), there are tons of book readings by famous Dutch (and select international) authors, as well as a book fair, author interviews and signing sessions. All Things Loud is present for the duration of the festival’s “music” days; read on for a full review of day one.
There are three main venues involved in Crossing Border. The Main Stage (known as The Royal) is found inside the Koninklijke Schouwburg theatre, which is a beautifully designed room with 3 balconies and an all-seated floor. Inside the Schouwburg there are also two other venues, as well as two book-centred areas. Next door, in the Nationale Toneel Gebouw, the focus shifts firmly to music with another selection of acts spread over the two rooms available, The Raven and the Heartbeat Hotel. This year, Crossing Border was opened by the Massachusetts-sextet Arc Iris in The Royal. With a nature-themed stage backdrop going on, frontwoman Jocie Adams (formerly of the Low Anthem) was dressed in a full-gold latex ensemble as her backing band accompanied her through songs from their 2014 self-titled debut album. Set highlight Whisky Man encompasses a mixture of plucked guitars, brooding cellos and Adams extremely folky voice. They were an interesting start to the day, with the near-full theatre remaining very much silent throughout the duration of the set. Later that day, the theatre would be filled to the rafters for Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s solo acoustic set, which was preceded by another acoustic set from Iron & Wine.
Over in The Raven, the straight-outta-Duluth sextet of Trampled by Turtles brought their progressive mix of folk and bluegrass to the 500-capacity room. Duluth is well-known as a former mining town in northern Minnesota, with this town’s influence definitely coming across in their music. Their hour-long set featured the likes of Wait So Long, which is by far one of their most well-known songs (if Spotify listens are anything to go by!). Sped-up banjos and mandolins are combined with plucked violin’s and Dave Simonett’s raw vocals, as the band also rip through the likes of folk-core rocker Codeine, euphoric Wild Animals and the serene Whiskey. Not too long after Trampled by Turtles round off their successful set, it’s up to the Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett to entertain the smaller Heartbeat Hotel. Around 250 people were crammed into the small upstairs room for what was definitely the show of the day. Playing songs from her debut album The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Barnett and her backing band brought the album to life and gave it the energy it slightly lacks on record. Standout track Avant Gardener, with its fantastic storytelling lyrics, proved popular with the dancing crowd, before set closer History Eraser was the catchiest and rockiest moment of the day. “The paramedic thinks I’m clever ‘cus I play guitar, I think she’s clever because she stops people dying” sang Barnett wistfully during the former, singing in her trademark half-woozy tone. It felt as if the room was too small for Barnett tonight, with a long line of people still waiting outside, unable to come in. Barnett and her band are forces to be reckoned with live, definitely ones to watch out for in the future.
Just before Barnett’s set started, Dutch autor Stefan Hertmans read extracts from his award-winning novel Oorlog en Terpentijn, accompanied by the Ukranian accordionist Oleg Lysenko and water colourist Koenraad Tinel. It was a stark contrast to the sun-kissed stoner rock that was set to follow, but it definitely showcased the diversity present at Crossing Border. Back in The Raven, the young upstate New Yorkers in The Felice Brothers had a spring in their step throughout their energetic set which featured the likes of slow-burning anthem Frankie’s Gun! and songs from their new album Favourite Waitress, which was released in June. A whole array of instruments featured, perhaps the most unlikely one being an old washboard which fiddle player Greg Farley enthusiastically smashed against the drum cymbals on various occasions. The upbeat Cherry Liquorice and danceable Run Chicken Run ensured that these young lads received an extremely good crowd reaction from the near-full room.
As the first day of Crossing Border slowly came to an end, the likes of Tweedy, Low Roar, Magnus and Stu Larsen brought the evening to an end. Saturday follows with a fuller programme, featuring performances from Dry the River, Kwabs, Thurston Moore and Sharon van Etten.
Click here for more (high quality) pictures from Crossing Border Festival. The pictures in this article have fallen victim to a decrease in quality.